Nepenthes Rajah: The Big Carnivorous Plant that Just Wants to Eat Poop

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
May 26 2014 1:46 PM

Nepenthes Rajah: The Big Carnivorous Plant that Just Wants to Eat Poop

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Deep in the forests of Malaysian Borneo lurks a most peculiar plant. First recorded in 1859, Nepenthes rajah is the largest of the pitcher plants. These carnivorous wonders feature liquid-filled cavities that lure and trap insects.

Ants are the preferred cuisine of the Nepenthes rajah, but the plant has been known to trap much larger organisms in its urn-shaped cavity. Rats, frogs, lizards, and birds have all been found in the rajah's sticky grasp.


Rat-eating plants make for fascinating botanical fodder, but Nepenthes rajah's considerable dimensions—the largest recorded urn can hold almost a gallon of water—probably aren't meant for trapping rodents.

In 2011, a team of scientists lead by Monash University carnivorous plant expert Dr. Charles Clarke published their findings after studying interactions between tree shrews, rats, and N. rajah. The report's main discovery was that these small mammals habitually landed on the rim of the plant and fed on nectar from the lid while defecating into the urn. Nepenthes rajah was their food source and toilet rolled into one. And that suited N. rajah just fine—the rat and tree shrew poop provided the plant with valuable nitrogen.

As a result of this study, it is now thought that Nepenthes rajah may have evolved to accommodate the feeding-and-pooping behavior of the tree shrews. The distance from the front rim of the pitcher to the nectar on the lid corresponds to the length of the tree shrew's body, allowing it to dine and defecate simultaneously in comfort. It's a heart-warming example of a plant and animal living in perfect harmony.

Other peculiar plants:

View Mesilau Nature Resort in a larger map



Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger's New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.